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Recently there has been a lot of discussions about when it is right to spay or neuter your cat or dog, with the main emphasis being on the right age to do so. Sometimes it is felt that it is better to not neuter them at all unless medically needed. As veterinary professionals, we have been recommending neutering for many many years, and this is because we believe there are significant health reasons to do so, both for your individual pet and for the pet population as a whole. As new evidence emerges about when is the best time to neuter, we alter our advice and this is more especially relevant to larger breed dogs and cats, but many of the overall advantages to neutering remain.

So why spay or neuter your cat?

Neutering your cat first of all means that they cannot reproduce – every year there is a large number of unwanted kittens that end up in rescue centres or left outside. These often live short, difficult lives outdoors, and contribute to the spread of diseases in the pet population through fighting. A neutered male cat is far less likely to wander as far, reducing the risk of road traffic accidents and getting lost/not making it home. They are also less likely to fight, meaning they are less likely to contract infectious diseases such as FIV. Entire male cats also have a very strong smell to their urine, which can be quite difficult to live with. They are also more likely to spray. While neutering doesn’t guarantee eliminating these characteristics entirely – some cats like to roam and others are more prone to fighting! – it does reduce the chance of these behaviours.

Spaying your female cat is predominantly recommended to stop her getting pregnant. Cats can get pregnant regularly and have between 3-8 kittens each time. They will mate with close relatives and when in season their behaviour can be very disruptive. They will actively try to escape outside, where males will be waiting, and it can be very hard to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Should she get pregnant, there are risks to the labour and providing the health care for mum and babies can be expensive. While it is not as common as in dogs, cats can also suffer from an infected uterus as they get older – a life threatening condition called a pyometra. Both pregnancy and pyometra are both totally avoided by spaying your cat.

And what about my dog?

The benefits to spaying a female dog are very similar to those of a cat. A female dog will, on average, come into season twice a year. Some females come into season more often than this. When in season their behaviour may change, they may become grumpier or less obedient than normal. For on average 7-14 days of their cycle they will bleed – this can be very messy as they may continuously drip blood around the house.

During their season they should be walked away from busy dog walking areas and strictly on lead only to avoid unwanted matings. If there are un-neutered males in the house, this can be a very stressful time for both dogs if being kept separate. If your female does get pregnant, she may have problems whelping. The likelihood of this happening depends on the breed – from almost certain in brachycephalic breeds like Bulldogs, to far less likely in breeds such as Labradors and Spaniels. If a cesarean is needed this can cost up to £2,000, perhaps more if there are complications and it is out of hours.

Female dogs are also far more likely to develop a pyometra as they age, and this can be a life threatening condition that means an emergency operation.

On top of this an entire female also has a much higher risk of breast cancer (mammary masses) than neutered females. The earlier they are neutered, the lower the risk of tumours developing. Pregnancy and the related risks, and pyometra are completely removed by spaying your female, and mammary tumour risks are much reduced.

Male dogs, like male cats, have less of a wandering drive if neutered and are less likely to be involved in fights. An entire male dog who catches the scent of a female in season is likely to become quite distressed and try and escape. An entire male is also more likely to scent mark, sometimes indoors.

Entire males are also more likely to suffer from prostatic disease as they are – this can often only be resolved by neutering. If a male dog has an undescended testicle, then the retained testicle can often turn cancerous, so for these patients neutering is considered essential.

So you can see there are lots of reasons that your vet will advise neutering your pet to keep them healthy and happy. Your vet may advise waiting if your dog is larger to allow the growth plates in their bones to close first, and they may advise avoiding neutering male dogs if they are nervous until they have benefitted from behavioural advice, but in many cases, neutering is one of the best things you can do for your pet to allow them to live a long, happy life!